Major women veterans' care bill heads to Senate floor after key committee vote

Photo credit U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nicholas Brown

What could be the most significant legislation for women veterans so far this Congress now heads to the Senate floor for a vote after passing a key committee on Wednesday and a House vote late last year.

The Deborah Sampson Act is an omnibus bill intended to remove barriers and improve women veterans’ care and is in major part the effort of the House Women Veterans Task Force. 

The Deborah Sampson Act includes measures to: 

  • Provide gender-specific healthcare equipment such as mammography machines at each VA;
  • Mandate a VA-wide sexual harassment and assault policy, including training for employees;
  • Ensure women veterans' primary care is available during regular VA business hours;
  • Establish an Office of Women's Health; 
  • Improve communications of women veterans' services;
  • Establish and improve care standards;
  • Provide more funding for women veteran programs;
  • Permanently authorize PTSD counseling for women veterans in retreat settings;
  • Expand eligibility for military sexual trauma counseling;
  • Provide extended care for newborns;
  • Require reporting on women veterans' services and benefits.

Leaders of the top veteran service organizations told Congress in February that addressing women veterans' care was among their top priorities, and many urged quick passage of the Deborah Sampson Act.

The bill is named for Deborah Sampson, a woman who, in 1782, as the fires of the Revolutionary War raged, sewed herself a uniform, disguised herself as a man and snuck into the Continental Army. She was wounded at least twice over the course of her 17-month service and carried a piece of musket fire inside her until she died. She was eventually honorably discharged when a doctor finally discovered the truth, and became the first woman to earn a full military pension, though she had to fight for it and would not live to see it. 

Also approved by the committee on Wednesday and heading to the Senate floor are:

  • The Nursing Home Care for Native American Veterans Act, which expands eligibility for grants that provide funding to state nursing homes for veterans to include veteran homes established by Native American tribes;
  • The VA Mission Telehealth Clarification Act, which would authorize qualified postgraduate healthcare employees and trainees at VA to provide treatment via telemedicine;
  • The Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act, which gives VA the authority to expand care and benefits to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits;
  • S.4384, which calls for a "K2 Toxic Exposure Study" and would require VA to address military exposure to toxic substances at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan;
  • The CARE for Reservists Act, which expands eligibility for mental health services from VA for National Guard and Reservists;
  • The Agent Orange Exposures Fairness Act, which expands eligibility for a presumption of service-connection for more veterans exposed to herbicides including Agent Orange;
  • The Veterans Debt Fairness Act, which would limit VA's authority to collect overpayments of benefits from veterans;
  • The Accountability in VA Scheduling and Consult Management Act, which requires VA review its processes and requirements for scheduling healthcare appointments and consultations;
  • The TEAM Veteran Caregiver Act, which requires VA to formally recognize caregivers of veterans in veterans' health records; 
  • The Veterans Posttraumatic Growth Act, which would require VA to conduct a two-year pilot program to study the effectiveness of non-profit post-traumatic growth programs;
  • The Protecting Business Opportunities for Veterans Act, which would apply some subcontracting limits on VA awards to small businesses. 

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Reach Abbie Bennett: or @AbbieRBennett.
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